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Calls for Wellington Airport to extend runway

Thursday 3 Jan 2013 5:23 p.m.

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There is a renewed call for Wellington Airport to extend its runway as the world's fastest-growing airline, Emirates, says it may consider flying to the capital in the future.

The Middle East-based carrier can't land its fully loaded jets into Wellington at the moment because the runway is too short.

As winds gusted up to 140km/h in Wellington yesterday, a Qantas plane had trouble touching down. Running out of runway, the landing was aborted.

Currently flights like this from Australia are the longest routes flown into Wellington.

But the Wellington Chamber of Commerce wants to see long-haul routes fly into the capital.

“There are huge economic advantages in having long-haul capacity directly into Wellington,” says Richard Stone.

And Emirates, which already flies to Auckland and Christchurch, says it would consider Wellington. But a recent report by the Australian competition watchdog says the Dubai carrier is unable to add new routes here, “since its wide-bodied aircraft cannot land at other airports in New Zealand, including Wellington Airport”.

The Chamber of Commerce says that needs to change.

“I think we've got no option but to increase runway length,” says Mr Stone.

“There's some cost involved and some compliance issues involved, and I think we've got to get our head around those if we're going to advance the issue.”

The airport has planned for possible expansion in the future, including a 500m extension at the southern end of the runway and a 100m extension to the north.

Aviation commentator Peter Clark says that would be a waste of money.

“I think any changes in Wellington will not attract long-haul carriers. Wellington is a smaller airport catering for a smaller community.”

But Wellington Airport disagrees, saying 1000 people connect to long-haul flights to and from the capital each day.

And for now it's pinning its hopes on next generation long-haul planes like the Dreamliner, which can use the present runway, before it decides whether to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on an extension.

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